Observed Sensitivity During Family Interactions and Cumulative Risk: A Study of Multiple Dyads Per Family

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The present study sought to investigate the family, individual, and dyad-specific contributions to observed cognitive sensitivity during family interactions. Moreover, the influence of cumulative risk on sensitivity at the aforementioned levels of the family was examined. Mothers and 2 children per family were observed interacting in a round robin design (i.e., mother-older sibling, mother younger-sibling and sibling-dyad, N = 385 families). Data were dyadic, in that there were 2 directional scores per interaction, and were analyzed using a multilevel formulation of the Social Relations Model. Variance partitioning revealed that cognitive sensitivity is simultaneously a function of families, individuals and dyads, though the importance of these components varies across family roles. Cognitive sensitivity for mothers was primarily attributable to individual differences, whereas cognitive sensitivity for children was predominantly attributable to family and dyadic differences, especially for youngest children. Cumulative risk explained family and individual variance in cognitive sensitivity, particularly when actors were older or in a position of relative competence or authority (i.e., mother to children, older to younger siblings). Overall, this study demonstrates that cognitive sensitivity operates across levels of family organization, and is negatively impacted by psychosocial risk.

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